Get our newsletters

By the Way: On a dark and stormy night


Halloween is approaching. It’s a day the ancient Celts believed the veil separating the world of the living from that of the dead was exceedingly thin, allowing the dead to pass through.

So why not try to contact the murdered Col. Arthur Erwin, who had served in the Revolutionary War and had once owned a large chunk of Bucks County? The village of Erwinna still bears his name.

It was entirely timely for the Tinicum Players Decades Club to present “An Evening of Spiritualism & Gothic Tales” this month. The event at the Erwin Stover House in Tinicum Park drew so many it had to be split into two programs.

With a dark and stormy night providing a spooky atmosphere, the mainstay of the event was a candlelit séance conducted by a medium.

The session began with the ringing of a bell. A circle of believers, hands on table, chanted and then waited breathlessly while the medium, heavily veiled in black, called up the spirit of the colonel who was assassinated in 1791.

After two Erwin relatives answered the medium’s Ouija board summons, the voice of the colonel broke through the darkness, asking for family members to avenge his killing. As his voice faded, the heavily veiled medium collapsed with exhaustion.

It seemed a perfect theatrical re-creation of the seances that filled American parlors in the second half of the 19th century, a time when the average American life span was under 50 and when grieving survivors were desperate to communicate with their loved ones “on the other side.”

Amy Hollander of Milford, N.J., storyteller and museum exhibit designer and consultant, played the role of the medium. She is founder of the Tinicum Players and a member of the Bucks County Parks and Recreation board. The open house program, one of a series, each from a different historical decade, included other activities. The county owns the Erwin Stover House.

Participants chatted with the costumed actors as they wandered from room to room in the handsomely furnished old home. Built originally by an Erwin son in 1810, it later was owned by the Stover family and it has a Victorian addition.

Linda Koontz of the county’s Parks and Recreation department presided at a Victorian game in one room. She taught visitors how to play Round the World with Nellie Bly.

Manufactured in 1890, the popular board game challenged players to beat the 72-day journey of the feminist journalist.

Robert Greene of Washington Crossing, N.J., held court in another room.

He said his hobby is researching the Gilded Age, and he was happy to share his knowledge of the period extending from about 1870s to 1900, a time of great wealth for industrialists and poverty for immigrant workers.

“Steel,” Greene said. “It all started with steel. Everyone wanted steel. Before that all the ships were built of wood. Steel changed everything.”

In the next room Doug Milne and Sue Meacham were teaching guests to dance the tango, which also was a great favorite in the Victorian Age.

“This is the American tango,” said Milne. “It’s quite different from the Argentine tango but the steps are the same.” He was watching carefully as a couple learning the steps made their way around the room.

In the final room, Bev Altrath was telling fortunes for the visitors with Gypsy Witch cards. She also displayed a crystal ball and discussed how fortune tellers can often guide people to help solve their problems. Other fortune telling objects date from the casting of runes, an ancient but still practiced skill, right up to an Edwardian teacup used for reading tea leaves.

The Victorians were known for their eager consumption of alcohol so a whiskey tasting offered by County Seat Spirits, an Easton distiller, was a warm way to end the rainy evening.

Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.